Braves at Giants: Series Preview

The Giants come home to open AT&T Park, but waiting for them are the defending NL East champ (for the umpteenth time) Atlanta Braves, coming off a series win in Los Angeles. Can the Giants match up?

First Base:
After one series, Lance Niekro has done nothing to disown the starting first base job.  He’s worked counts, picked up the only RBI in the Giants first game with a 2 out, full count hit, and walked with the bases loaded for another RBI in the 2nd game.  On the other hand, the RBI was his only hit for the two days, and despite facing a lefty in Shawn Estes, he wasn’t able to capitalize.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Adam LaRoche hasn’t hit much either, but his two hits were both home runs.  On the other hand, he has 7 strikeouts and no walks, and hasn’t been particularly effective outside of the dingers.

The Edge: Even
Both of these are young, hacktastic players.  LaRoche has done better so far hitting home runs, but for him it’s looking like either feast or famine.  Niekro hasn’t made the splash, but his approach has been better and it’s paid off in both games for the Giants.  Even if LaRoche gets the bigger hits, Niekro has a better chance of being effective every at-bat.

Second Base:
Ray Durham’s been off to a slow start this season, as the order in front of Bonds struggled in both of the first games.  Durham got his first hit Wednesday but that’s been it.  He has looked good defensively, though, and moved well, so that’s something.

Marcus Giles, meanwhile, has started off strong for the Braves, going 3 for 8 with a double in his first couple of games.  The downside is that he looked like he rolled his ankle in the game with the Dodgers on Wednesday, and though he stayed in the game, his status for the 4 game series is unknown

The Edge: Braves
Giles has been the better hitter and player the past few years, and even with his health suddenly a question mark, he’ll still have a better chance to outperform a so-far slumping Durham.

Vizquel’s been the only guy getting any hits at the top of the order this year, collecting two hits on Wednesday to bring his total up to 3 for 8 on the year.  One of those hits started the Giants 3 run rally to win, but otherwise not much has happened with those knocks.  Defensively, though, Omar has been the same old defensive wizard, and that had a big part in helping the Giants take Game 2 in San Diego.

For the Braves, Edgar Renteria is bouncing back from a down year quickly going 5 for 13 on the young season with 2 doubles and 4 RBI already.  While Renteria hasn’t had as many chances to show off defensively yet, either, but he’s a former gold glover himself and hasn’t lost a step at only 30.

The Edge: Braves
Vizquel has been outstanding defensively, but Renteria’s as dialed in as anyone at the plate, and his performance is a big reason the Braves took two of three from the Dodgers.

Third Base:
The job is Pedro’s, finally.  But his early response has been some terrible looking swings, a GIDP and a meaningless single late in the 2nd game of the season as his only hit so far.  Granted, one of those two games was against one of the toughest hurlers in the NL, but the numbers don’t look good.  Feliz has been surehanded defensively, however, and is an asset on the field even if he’s not hitting.

Chipper Jones remains a fixture for the Braves at the hot corner, and though he only played in the first 2 games in Los Angeles, he looks like he hasn’t lost anything yet.  He missed game three with a ‘mild abdominal strain’ but says he’ll be playing in San Francisco.  Defensively, he’s still a good defender, though he’ll never get a gold glove

The Edge: Braves
Again, the offensive production is the difference maker.  Feliz already got moved down in the order after game 1 against the Braves, and the Giants will need him to start producing if they want to do more than split this series.

Mike Matheny has been his usual self behind the plate, handling both Schmidt and Morris well, and working well with the bullpen, especially in game 2.  Offensively, well, he’s seemed to do his best last year with men on, and he hasn’t had many chances yet at that this year.

Meanwhile, the Braves are playing youngster Brian McCann, who is in his first pro season.  He’s off to a slow start, but that’s buoyed by having a home run in his first two hits.  He hasn’t had a great defensive reputation, but he’s pushed himself to improve that side of his game and it’s showing.  But he’s not in Matheny’s class.

The Edge: Giants
In this case, it’s the defense.  Matheny’s veteran presence remains one of the most influential on the field, and he handles a young pitching staff well.  McCann’s got a ton of potential, but he’s got a long ways to live up to it.

Left Field:
The Giants are playing Barry Bonds.  What, you want something more in depth?  He’s getting on base, and hitting the ball solidly most of the time.  The home runs will come, and probably in this series.

The Braves are playing young outfielder Ryan Langerhans in left.  He’s off to a good start, and has a double and a home run already in just 9 at bats.

The Edge: Giants
Langerhans may have a good career in front of him, or maybe not.  But Bonds is better than just about anyone else in the majors, even if it’s only for 3 games out of 4.

Center Field:
Randy Winn has started the season 0 for 8 and not at all shown the offensive prowess that his late season run with the Giants promised.  The good news is that defensively, he’s shown he can still chase balls down and made a great catch in game 1.

Andruw Jones did like most of the Braves roster and feasted on the Dodger staff, going 4 for 11 with a homer and a double.  Defensively, he’s still one of the better guys in the league.

The Edge: Braves
This one’s not really a contest.  Jones has started the season out hot, and it doesn’t really matter whether Winn is hot or cold; A hot Jones matches almost anyone not named Bonds or Pujols.

Right Field:
Moises Alou’s first pitch tendencies are back, and it hasn’t been great so far.  One of his two hits so far was a slow roller to the mound that only let him get on base because Shawn Estes had a brain freeze while fielding it.  Alou is still one of the best RBI men in the game, and will get on base often.

Meanwhile, 2nd year sensation Jeff Francoeur is just about the only Brave off to a slow start offensively, going 1 for 12 through 3 games.  Though he’s still a very good defensive right fielder, he needs to find a better way to contribute offensively.

The Edge: Giants
The manager’s son is getting the job done, some way some how.  The same can’t be said for Francoeur.

Thanks to a rainout, the Giants rotation is pushed back, and the Giants will use their 3-4-5 pitchers before Schmidt’s 2nd start on Sunday.  That means that it’s Noah Lowry, Matt Cain and Jamey Wright going for the Giants this Thursday, Friday and Saturday respectively.  Lowry, coming off a big deal but a cool spring, is ready to go.  He loves pitching at SBC/AT&T Park, and doing it in an Opening Day environment should be a big deal.  He’s going against Jorge Sosa, who still hasn’t been able to lock down a starting job for a full season in 4 seasons with Atlanta.  He showed a ton of promise with a 2.55 ERA last year, but he can’t match up with Lowry.

Saturday’s start features the Giants number 5, Jamey Wright, against Atlanta’s ace, Tim Hudson.  Wright wrapped up the spring with his worst outings after his job on the team had been locked up, and will be playing for his new team for the first time for real.  Hudson had a rough first outing against Los Angeles, giving up 5 runs in 4 innings.  Still, on most days, one can reasonably expect Tim Hudson to outpitch Wright, especially with the way the respective teams have been hitting.

Sunday’s matching of Jason Schmidt against John Smoltz is a different story, though.  Both had troubles in their first starts, but Schmidt looked dominating except for one lapse.  Smoltz had problems through the game.  Schmidt has the advantage coming home and pitching for his adoring fans.

That leaves Friday’s matchup between young Kyle Davies and younger Matt Cain.  Davies had an extended tryout last year, and had issues with walks and home runs.  Cain had his own issues in a brief tryout, but he survived them mostly.  Cain’s spring, however, has not been strong.  Still, Cain has a ton of potential and Davies is more questions than potential.

The Edge: Giants
The Giants have an advantage (albeit with questions) in 3 of the 4 games in this series.  Cain vs. Davies in particular should be interesting, but expect the heavy advantages that Lowry and Schmidt have in their matchups to work in the Giants favor.

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